Curbing veteran suicide rates

February 22, 2015

U.S. Rep. Yoder meets with JCCC veteran services, veterans and mental health personnel to discuss new law

During a recent roundtable meeting at Johnson County Community College to discuss veteran suicides, Chris Stout told U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder the biggest problem associated with vets who kill themselves.

“You don’t bring your problems out,” he said. “These veterans don’t ask for help until their backs are against the wall.”

Stout, veteran navigator for the United Way and a veteran himself, was part of community panel JCCC hosted so Yoder could gather information for the newly passed Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.

The bill, passed by both houses of Congress, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 12.

Its purpose is to provide more supportive mental health care for military veterans.  Approximately 30 people convened in the Capitol Federal Conference Center (RC 101A) to discuss veterans’ issues, mental health concerns and the unique problems that come with trying to counsel veterans.

Uniting non-profits

Representatives from Johnson County Mental Health, the United Way, Team Rubicon Wyandot Center and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs joined personnel from JCCC’s veteran services, student services and counseling departments.

Also in attendance were delegates from Catholic Charities, Church of the Resurrection and Veterans Upward Bound at the University of Kansas. Student veterans from JCCC also joined the conversation.

Yoder quoted sobering statistics to begin the meeting. “Twenty-two percent of all suicides in this country are veteran related. So we’re trying to figure out in Washington what we can do with our resources to impact that number, to make sure we have the things necessary when these men and women come back home.”

Shana Burgess, manager of prevention services at Johnson County Mental Health, said the roundtable was “a great opportunity for us to come together with other professionals in our community to best provide services.”

‘A wider net’

Better mental health is also the goal for Dr. Maureen Ruh, suicide prevention coordinator from Veterans Affairs in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Ruh said the new law most likely will lead to an external audit of mental health services offered by the VA. She said she’s welcoming the input.

“We want to do what we can to spread a wider net to help our veterans,” she said.

At the end of conversation, the topic deviated from suicide of veterans to the mental health problems of the active military. Group members discussed how the needs of these individuals could be balanced against health privacy laws like HIPAA.

In memory of a Marine

Yoder said he thought the 70-minute meeting was beneficial.

“Getting everyone in the same room is a good start to address the issue,” he said.

The day’s meeting was “certainly not an end fix, but I think it’s a beginning step to help reduce the number of suicides,” Yoder said.

The new law was named after Clay Hunt, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. After trying to seek help at the VA, Hunt took his own life in 2011 at age 28.

After the roundtable, Yoder and his staff toured JCCC’s Veteran and Military Student Resource Center, which opened in November 2014.